The Powerball jackpot may be gone, but let’s say you won a much smaller jackpot this week. Or maybe a rich uncle you never knew died and left everything in your name. Or that really nice Nigerian prince who emailed asking you to advance him some money actually did pay you back and then some. Anyway, you’ve got some cash to play with, and you’re looking for a performance car that can hold its own both on back roads and the track. If you followed last week’s Detroit Auto Show, the new BMW M2 might be at the top of your list. We know it’d be on the top of ours, that is if we were in your shoes, you lucky dog.
The M2 enters above the current M235i as the most performance-focused car in the 2 Series lineup, and unlike that car, it’s a real-deal M model. Perhaps more importantly, it’s bringing the entry point of BMW’s M-cars back a little closer to earth. Where an E36 M3 would’ve set you back $36,620 in 1994 (or around $58k today), and just five years ago, the 1M – considered by many to be the finest M model this century – could be had for $46,135, or $48,677 today. But until last week, sedan-only M3 was the ticket into the company’s superlative sports cars, and it doesn’t come cheap; in fact, it starts at $63,500. The cheapest coupe, the M4, starts at $65,700. Compared to these two, BMW’s practically giving the M2 away at $51,700. You’d be stupid not to buy one, right?
The 3,400 pound coupe has a turbocharged straight-six cranking out 365 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, with six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions offered to help put the power down. It has a track-day ready Active M electronic rear differential, its track has been widened nearly two inches front and rear, fenders are flared, and its front and rear fascias are exclusive to the model. With all these modifications, it’s still 55 pounds lighter than an M235i. Like its bigger stablemates, top speed is governed at 155 miles per hour, though with the DCT, it can scramble from zero to 60 in an impressive 4.2 seconds.
Thanks to its arrest-me coupe styling and seriously impressive numbers, and rear-wheel drive layout, the M2 represents the ideal performance BMW; a mean, corner-carving successor to the teutonic ideal created by the original E30 M3 over 30 years ago. Here’s the thing: In the low $50k-range, it undercuts likely-suspect rivals like the Porsche 911, Mercedes-AMG GT, and Lexus RC-F by too much – not a bad problem to have. But you’ll have to forgive us for thinking that the sound of a high-performance, ass-kicking, rear-wheel drive coupe sounds vaguely familiar to our American ears. The M2 could turn out to be the best muscle car not to come from America in years, and if that’s the case, it might have some unexpected competition in Ford’s hottest ponycar, the Shelby GT350.
Just two years ago, the idea of a legitimate Mustang-BMW match-up would’ve been laughable. With its solid rear-axle – a layout it had stubbornly held on to since 1964 – even the most able Mustangs lumbered and wallowed in the corners, making the glaring shortcomings of American iron painfully obvious. But then an all-new Mustang appeared for 2015, and suddenly the world’s first ponycar was all grown up. At the top of the heap sits the Shelby GT350, discounting the track-prepped R model.
On paper, the M2 and the GT350 don’t have much in common. The Mustang has over 300 pounds on the Bimmer, and with its 5.2 liter flat-plane crank Voodoo V8, it pumps out 526 horsepower, a two cylinder, 161 pony advantage over its German rival. And an independent rear suspension and Torsen differential means that for the first time ever, a stock Mustang can finally keep pace with the Europeans through the corners. With the Camaro Z/28 out of the picture for at least the next few years, this is the best American-built track toy you can buy for under $100,000. What’s more, it starts at $47,795. It’s cheaper than an M2.
And yet, the GT350 hits 60 from a standstill in 4.3 seconds, making it 0.1 seconds slower than the dual-clutch M2. Sure, the Mustang and its estimated 175 mile per hour top speed would keep pulling once the M2 leveled off on a long straightaway, but despite Ford’s leaps and bounds in the cornering department, we’d find it hard to make a BMW the underdog in a corner-carving contest. On a track, this competition really could get close, and for under $60K each, we think both cars make for one hell of a deal.
At the end of the day, there really isn’t much of a down side here. The M2 offers the legendary BMW M driving experience, and an over-the-top German car is still pretty understated compared to the amped-up Mustang. It’s stylish, it’s civilized, and it’s likely to be ruthless on the track. On the other hand, the Shelby GT350 with its exotic Ferrari-like flat plane crank V8 is the hottest Mustang currently built, and is a bargain for what it is. But unlike the Bimmer, you’ll be dealing with relatively useless back seats (or no back seats in the hardcore R model), a loud, thirsty V8, and the fact that you’ve likely topped the $50K mark for a Mustang. But no matter how outrageous the M2 could get, it still will never have that all-in, nothing to lose raw charisma that hot Mustangs have always had. If we had sixty grand to play with, we’d flip a coin, read some tea leaves, see a priest, and call an astrology hotline before making a decision. Choosing between a GT350 and an M2 would certainly be a problem, but it’s a problem that we’d love to have someday.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.